Now the UConn Huskies have their mulligan. Yes, the major programs are also entitled to it. And the Huskies C-Minus, rated Saturday night in West Lafayette, Indiana, ended the season juxtaposing the simultaneous concepts of hope for the future and the sobering reality of the present.
Hope: You have returned to the NCAA tournament and certainly resemble a team that, as the stats freaks like to say, is “trending up”.
Sobering Reality: You haven’t beaten anyone well all year, except maybe Southern California. In one game, UConn scored all eight points in the last 14 minutes, either due to good defense or the Trojans’ disruption to shooting. They went 4-0 against Creighton and Villanova and lost their NCAA tournament game in the first round.
And now they face the prospect of losing James Bouknight to the NBA draft. Someone out there thinks Bouknight is ready for the pros, despite another stink bomb on Saturday night: 6v16 shooting and Hurley’s post-game admission: “James has a long way to go as a defender.”
“A great credit to Maryland,” said Hurley after a 63:54 loss to the Terps at Mackey Arena. “They showed their experience. We fought. I wish we could have protected better. I’m proud of these guys and the step they took this year.”
Ah yes. The steps they took this year. Hurley reminded us of the tenor of the program ad nauseum before arriving, even though he curiously tossed Kevin Ollie a bouquet of flowers after Saturday’s defeat. Hurley thought nothing of pounding Ollie through the prism all year long, what the program looked like when he got here.
A selection of current quotes:
February 27: “We have come a long way. I don’t think people understand how far we’ve come to this point in three years.”
March 3rd: “I don’t mind the bladder. The bladder doesn’t bother me. I don’t even want to talk about it. I look where we were from March to April when we came in, between 179 and 180 in (metric) KenPom and the various programs we were stuck between … Now in our third year we have the chance to potentially play 11-6 (in the league) and back in the NCAA tournament. “
March 5th: “When we got there, things were chaotic.”
March 17th: “James has done so much for UConn. This place was in ruins when he got here.”
March 18th: “I could write a book, man. It’s like opening the hood sometimes, it’s worse than what the car looks like. All of these practices, every day, when you think about behavior, habits and mindset struggles … and the struggle goes on every day because you are trying to create a successful culture and mindset. Surely it wasn’t that kind of mindset a few years ago. “
To sum it up again: Chaotic. Confused. A more cynical guy could accuse Hurley of throwing the previous administration under the bus to look better – in a year that lacked quality gains. But that’s a more cynical guy. Remember: this is a mulligan.
It is, of course, folly to hope that Bouknight will return for the junior college season he needs. But that’s the way of basketball now. You go to the NBA and learn on the job instead of staying in college to help State U and study here. For what’s worth it, Hurley on bouknight’s season:
“He got off to a brilliant start. The injury set him back. Obviously he meant so much to this program that he was back playing where UConn belongs in March. … This was a big point. (Maryland’s Darryl) Morsell is a.” excellent defender … (Bouknight) was a little undecided tonight. “
There will come a time – like next year – when only DePaul will be defeated in the Big East tournament and a one-and-do in big dance will be deemed a pathetic failure. That’s because it’s about any program that introduces itself like the “Blueblood” UConn. But then that’s a mulligan.
“You are just gutted here. Really disappointed,” said Hurley. “We have a lot more to do as a program.”
Here, Hurley mentioned the programming history and past achievements of Calhoun and Kevin Ollie. The same Ollie who left the program “messy” and “messed up”. Except that Ollie won a national championship here. Hurley didn’t.
Now the season is over. Better days are ahead, at least if the general eye test is correct. Hope Hurley takes full advantage of the mulligan. His next tee shot must land directly on the fairway.
This is the opinion of daily sports columnist Mike DiMauro